The journey in our Stiletto from Watch Station Scapula to the planet Iphigenia, now with a captured Tau Orca dropship and the Watch Station’s salvaged cogitator banks in our hold, took a couple of days. We plotted a course to make as stealthy an orbital approach as possible, keeping us clear of the orbital defence satellites and aiming for a gap in the defence grid, while Zariel searched the cogitator banks for relevant data. There are three main sites of Laer ruins on the planet – an amphitheatre in the mountains of the northern continent, a partly excavated buried city among thickly forested terrain on the southern continent, and a network of walls forming some kind of labyrinth on a massive scale. According to the Station’s records Inquisitor Hoffman visited the excavation a year before the planet fell to the Tau and recommended it was quarantined from the local populace pending a full Inquisitorial investigation, charging the Deathwatch to ensure the Governor’s compliance with the order. From orbit we were able to tell that the Tau have recommenced excavations and set up a couple of installations on the edges of the buried city, and that there is an occupied Tau & human city relatively nearby. Zariel noticed a pattern to the ruins, but was shielded from its influence by his strength of will, his orthoproxy and our squad’s Oath to the Emperor.
The next stage of our plan was to have Zariel modify the captured Orca’s cockpit so that Calibos could pilot it (with Zariel providing technical assistance and handling the comms) into the atmosphere for a closer recon sweep, while Siegmund, Darqiel & Elyas waited in a drop-pod in case emergency back-up was required, with a human pilot on standby with a Stormraven gunship in case extraction was needed, the latter accompanied by Aemilianus to bolster her will against the sight of the Laer ruins. The recon sweep reveals many wrecked vehicles and spreading fires in the planet’s urban areas. One of the facilities at the excavation is wrecked and on fire while the other (about 500m in diameter) is locked down & heavily defended by mixed Tau & human troops plus a couple of Hammerhead gunships, some drones and some fighters. The Orca is contacted by a stilted Tau voice which seems dissatisfied with the initial authroisation codes Zariel gives, so he rummages through the Tau brain in his pocket and comes up with some crisis authorisation codes. These are accepted and the Orca is ordered to proceed to a landing zone for quarantine, for which journey it gains a couple of drone fighters as escorts. Those on the Stiletto are informed of the situation and we come up with a plan – when the Orca is halfway to the landing zone we launch the drop pod at a location inside the facility’s compound near the Hammerhead on the far side from our Orca, at which point Calibos and Zariel divert the Orca to the facility to provide “assistance”…
The drop pod makes a suitably dramatic landing. Elyas plants both feet firmly on the ground and erects a psychic Force Barrier around himself. Siegmund turns the volume on his armour’s external address system to maximum and orders the human troops to return to the service of the Emperor. Calibos and Zariel are unable to talk their drone escorts round into allowing them to come help rather than continue heading for quarantine, so Calibos performs some neat evasive manoeuvres while Zariel uses the comm link to access the systems of one of the fighters and convince it that the Orca is the other fighter and the other fighter is the Orca disobeying orders, as a result of which the compromised fighter opens fire on its companion which retaliates in kind. The filthy xenos show their cowardly nature by broadcasting a message over the facility’s speakers in crude Low Gothic suggesting that we start negotiations, while the troops fall back to defensive positions. Darqiel uses his jump-pack to power over to the nearest Hammerhead and mag-lock his boots to its bonnet. A pack of gun drones flies over to fan out and cover him.
Elyas unleashes a blast of Hellfire on the largest concentration of Tau & human troops, centreing it behind their paltry cover and taking out about half their number. Siegmund exhorts the human troops to show their loyalty by turning their weapons on the xenos beside them, then uses his jump-pack to jet over to the door of the command bunker. Zariel uses his breaching auger to make a hole in the Orca’s cockpit canopy, Calibos plots a course for the second Hammerhead and pokes his lascannon through the hole in the canopy ready to fire. The first Hammerhead tries to back off and dislodge Darqiel, this doesn’t work and unable to bring its weapons to bear on him it instead fires its main rail-gun at Elyas – most of the force of the blast is absorbed by his Force Barrier, the rest dissipates against the energy field generated by his Storm Shield. The second Hammerhead moves into view on the far side of the compound, helpfully presenting its vulnerable rear to the approaching Orca. Darqiel punches his power fist straight through the front armour of the first Hammerhead, then reaches in and crushes the gunship’s hapless pilot to a bloody pulp. The troops are now in disarray, the humans mostly turning their guns on the Tau or fleeing, the Tau retaliating or seeking cover. The gun drones open fire on Darqiel – he dodges half the shots, the other half merely scratch his armour.
On Siegmund’s suggestion Elyas centres the next Hellfire blast just in front of him, warping and softening the bunker’s door and charcoalising the Tau in the first 15m of the corridor behind it. Siegmund is then able to barge through the weakened door and move up to confront the nearest surviving Tau defenders. Zariel makes some final course adjustments to the Orca while Calibos fires his lascannon and scores a direct hit on the weak rear armour of the second Hammerhead, then he and Zariel bail out of the Orca moments before it crashes into said Hammerhead – there is a massive explosion, while the two of them land firmly on their feet and stride purposefully from the flames. With the aid of his jump-pack Darqiel leaps up and catches one of the gun drones in his power-fist, crushing it into tiny fragments, while the rest of the drones maintain their ineffective fusillade.